Friday, November 27, 2009

East vs West - what happens when you're both?


Above is a picture of Devdutt Pattanaik, a mythologist who studies how an individuals cultural mythology affects his/her interactions on a daily basis.


The talk he gives is highly engaging and I'd encourage anyone to watch it, however, I found myself with a different perspective while watching.  I am both the east and the west.  Comfortable in both, at home in none.  If you're reading this, chances are you are in a similar boat :)


I was born and raised in Chicago/Phoenix, and while I went to public school and learned what anyone kid would, I would come home everyday and would hear the stories of the east that Mr. Pattanaik highlighted.  In fact, I remember hearing the story of Ganesha when I was 5 or 6 - it was taught to me as a lesson of how important one's parents are and to what extent they command one's respect.  Then, I would go to school and be taught to question EVERYTHING - no sacred cows.  So what happens when people like ME grow up?


I have a full-time job as a consultant and I spend a large amount of my time 'trying to win the race' (somewhat like Alexander), yet do not fully believe in there being a race to win.  Hence, I come home, and somewhat like the gymnosophist, spend long days in meditation or service work, trying to focus on the intentions within that lead to the actions without.


There's a lot of us out there, and I believe our two co-existing perspectives are not necessarily at odds with each other.  Clearly on a superficial level it allows us to empathize / connect with folks in either world, but it's even helpful outside of this. 


For example, it is my belief in absolute ways of measurement that leads my interest in economic development.  If we can measure progress and track it meticulously, we can develop action plans to continue it forward to help others.  A more traditionally western point of view.  However, the familiarity with 'context' from the east tells me that no measured answer can be correct, and constant changes to the model would be required for optimal results.  It is a continual attempt to balance head and heart, without either of which which you can end up with well-meaning but ill-conceived solutions.  Furthermore, my eastern perspective makes me think of any action I take not necessarily as something to 'save the world'. but the equivalent of 'action meditation' - something to help me understand myself and my place in the universe.  It is my way of 'conquering the world' by 'giving it all up' :)